Act One: Entrance and Relationship

Act One, Scene One of The First Part of Henry the Fourth opens with entrance of Henry IV (Bolingbroke from Richard the Second), Lord John of Lancaster, the Earl of Westmoreland, Sir Walter Blunt, and others. Just who are these guys?

Well, Blunt was a loyalist to John of Gaunt, and helped Henry achieve the throne.

Westmoreland was a sort of brother-in-law to the King (he had married Henry’s half-sister… but more on that later).

John of Lancaster was the King’s son. The THIRD son. Where are sons one and two? We don’t know. Now, we know that Shakespeare has been known to play fast and loose with the ages of his characters (boy, does he… wait until you see the respective ages of the two most closely linked characters in THIS play… but more on that later in the month), but just to be clear: the events of this play all take place between early years of the fifteenth century (SPOILER ALERT: the climactic Battle of Shrewsbury was in 1403). John was born in 1389, so (in history, at least), he’d be between eleven and fourteen. Prince John has only five lines in this play (all in Act Five), but he will appear in the next three plays: The Second Part of Henry the Fourth, Henry the Fifth, and The First Part of Henry the Sixth (that’s right, he was Bedford in that play from the first tetralogy).

If John is so young, where are his two older brothers? We don’t know (at least not yet, in the case of the eldest, Henry). But we do know their ages: the heir apparent Henry was born in 1387, so he’d be between thirteen and fifteen; Thomas of Lancaster was one year younger than Henry and one year older than John… and he doesn’t appear in our play (though he will in the next).

Now, remember a couple of paragraphs back, I said we’d revisit Westmoreland? Well, here we go: Westmoreland had married Henry’s half-sister, Joan Beaufort. Remember Henry’s dad, John of Gaunt, got around and was married multiple times. His final marriage was to his longtime mistress Katherine Swynford, and she bore him many children. For our purposes, the important ones are Joan (again, more on that in a minute… I’m getting to it, I swear), Henry and Thomas (who both appear in the first tetralogy [as the Bishop of Winchester and Duke of Exeter, respectively]), and John, who fathered an entire line of Somersets (who appear in the first tetralogy), and who was the grandfather of Margaret Beaufort, who would later marry Edmund Tudor and would be the mother of the future Henry VII in The Third Part of Henry the Sixth.

Joan Beaufort, Henry’s half-sister, as we said earlier married the Earl of Westmoreland, so we can see his allegiance to the king by marriage. Westmoreland had a name though: Ralph Neville. If that name rings a bell, it’s because his son and grandson appear in the first tetralogy, with that grandson being Richard Neville, “the Kingmaker” who caused so much trouble in the middle of that tetralogy.

And while you wrap your mind around just those few relationships, let’s pause before we tackle the actual play tomorrow…

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